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Major FJ Ricketts Royal Marines - 'Colonel Bogey'

Frederick Joseph Ricketts (21 February 1881 – 15 May 1945) was an English composer of marches for band. Under the pen name Kenneth J. Alford, he composed marches which are considered to be great examples of the art. He was a Bandmaster in the British Army, and Royal Marines Director of Music. Conductor Sir Vivian Dunn called Ricketts "The British March King".

A few weeks before the start of World War I, the 2nd Battalion of the Argylls and the Band were stationed at Fort George in North-East Scotland, nine miles from Inverness. It was here that Ricketts composed his most famous march, "Colonel Bogey".

While there are several speculations of how the march was begun, the most accepted is probably from a note written by Ricketts' widow to the publishers in 1958.

“While playing golf on the Fort George course, one of the members whistled the first two notes (B flat and G) instead of calling 'Fore!', and with impish spontaneity was answered by my husband with the next few notes. There was little sauntering—Moray Firth's stiff breezes encouraged a good crisp stride. These little scraps of whistling appeared to 'catch on' with the golfers, and from that beginning the Quick March was built up.”

Was the original whistler the colonel? We'll probably never know for certain, but the title Colonel Bogey gives us a clue.

Shortly after hostilities began in August 1914, the adult musicians of most line bands were pressed into service as stretcher bearers and medical orderlies. Ricketts and the Band Boys of the Argylls were posted to the 3rd Battalion (Reserve) in Edinburgh for the duration. During the war Ricketts wrote several marches dedicated to the fighting forces: "The Great Little Army" (1916), "On The Quarter Deck", "The Middy", and "The Voice of the Guns" (1917), and "The Vanished Army" (1919) which was subtitled "They Never Die". By the end of the war the Band Boys had matured into a group considered by many to be the finest regimental band in the British Army. Ricketts was given the unusual honour of being Mentioned in Despatches for Commendable Service.

In 1921, when the Royal Marines announced a vacancy for bandmastership of the Band of the Plymouth Division, Ricketts applied. He was interviewed, and later informed that he was the successful candidate. But there was a complication: the sitting bandmaster of the RM Plymouth Division Band, P.S.G. O'Donnell, had applied to become the director of the Grenadier Guards Band, vacant because of retirement.

O'Donnell had the support of HRH the Prince of Wales, for whom he had acted as band director on two royal tours. Assuming O'Donnell's appointment to the Grenadiers was a mere formality, the Marines had advertised the presumed upcoming vacancy for the Plymouth Division Band, for which Ricketts was approved. Then an objection was raised by a senior army bandmaster, quoting a piece of military legislation which stated that a member of the Senior Service (Royal Navy and Royal Marines) could not be commissioned into the Army.

The objection was upheld, O'Donnell was blocked from the Grenadier Guards, and Ricketts' appointment was cancelled. The Kneller Hall vacancy had been filled by Captain Hector Adkins, so Ricketts remained with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders for another six years. To make the conductors of the Royal Marines Bands more satisfied in their positions, in June 1921 HM King George V decreed that all Royal Marine conductors would be commissioned as directors of music. This was a further incentive for Ricketts to bide his time.

In 1927 a Royal Marine vacancy occurred, and Ricketts again applied, was approved, and commissioned a lieutenant in the Royal Marines Band Service on 4 July 1927. He was posted to the Royal Marine Depot, Deal. When the headquarters of the Band Service was transferred to Deal in 1930, Ricketts was posted to the Band of the Plymouth Division, Royal Marines, the principal band of the Royal Marines. Under Ricketts' direction, this band became world-famous, traveling to Paris and Canada. Before and during World War II they made a series of 78 RPM recordings of Alford marches, which EMI reissued on an LP in 1970, and now available on CD. It was titled "The British March King --Alford conducts Alford".

From 1935 to 1939 Ricketts conducted the Plymouth Band on a one-hour biweekly BBC Radio program, and the band was in constant demand to visit military camps and war production factories throughout the Second World War. The workload at that time put a temporary hiatus to his composing, but he resumed in 1941 with "By Land and Sea" and “Army of the Nile”, and in 1942 with “Eagle Squadron” dedicated to the Americans who were flying with the Royal Air Force. It was to be his final march.

Ricketts was promoted to Brevet Major on 31 December 1938 (an acting rank without the pay grade), and confirmed as a full Major on 4 July 1942.

Ricketts retired from the Royal Marines on 1 June 1944 because of ill health and died at his home in Reigate, Surrey, on 15 May 1945, after an operation for cancer.

He had given almost 50 years of distinguished service to the Crown. From 1907 until 1930 Ricketts had never spent more than two years in one place, and this made his 14-year-stay in Plymouth all the more pleasant. He became well-known and well-liked as leader of the Band of the Royal Marines.

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